American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader

By Keith L. Eggener | Go to book overview

Chapter 18
Mirror images
Technology, consumption, and the representation of gender
in American architecture since World War II

Joan Ockman

Two well-known images might be said to define American architecture in the first decades after World War II. One is Lever House, an early icon of International Style modernism, public face of American corporate capitalism (Figure 18.1). The other is Levittown, embodiment of suburban single-family domesticity, a vision of private life socially traditional and aesthetically conservative (Figure 18.2). How is this apparent schism in the built representation of postwar America to be explained? Why was a modernist aesthetic acceptable in the public realm but not in the private one? What is the relationship between this—literally and figuratively—high and low architecture? In what follows I shall attempt to answer these questions by postulating the existence of a kind of unstated “bargain” or social arrangement facilitated by basic assumptions about gender roles. From this analysis I shall then consider some significant shifts that have taken place more recently in the context of postmodernism.

It is necessary to begin by redescribing these two emblematic images in terms of the dominant ideologies they represented. The International Style as developed in the corporate and administrative framework of postwar America explicitly embodied the values of technocracy—the ethos of rationalism, bureaucracy, and technoscientific progress on which both big business and government were predicated. The exposed high-rise structural frame infilled with the repetitive modulations of an abstract curtain wall reflected the expansionist ambitions and laconic demeanor of American capitalism in an age of coldwar geopolitics.

Ironically, this “strong silent type” came to represent the “new monumentality” that Sigfried Giedion had called for during the war years, although not, to be sure, in the civic sense he had envisioned. Its cold, hard, unornamental, technical image supplied the American government with what it wanted out of its professional elites during the coldwar period. This was, as historian Godfrey Hodgson has put it, “a maximum of technical ingenuity with a minimum of dissent.”1

Having its major origin in the interwar modern movement in Europe, the postwar International Style was an outcome of the doctrine codified by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson in their 1932 show at the Museum of Modern Art and of the teachings disseminated by the European emigrés who began at this time to head America’s most prestigious schools of architecture. But American postwar modernism also had an indigenous source in the formidable imagery of native American technology: in engineering achievements like the Ford plant at River Rouge, the TVA dam, and, most recently, the arsenal of

-342-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
American Architectural History: A Contemporary Reader
Table of contents

Table of contents

Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this book
  • Bookmarks
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
/ 449

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.